Days 28-29 Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th July

Firstly, apologies for a late posting, but as you’ll appreciate the final days of an excavation, and the first days back at home, are the most hectic! So without further ado here’s a quick rundown of what went on!

Monday in the field was devoted to recording the site. In both trenches staff and students were drawing sections (side views or profiles) of the ditch segments, particularly in Trench seven.  Everything had to be drawn to scale and cleaned for archive photographs to be taken. These included more aerial shots taken by Adam Stanford of Aerial-Cam on his final visit to us.

As you can see in the images here, both trenches clearly show the extent of the archaeology. In trench six, the central area is the original ‘hall of the dead’ where a timber and daub structure held the bones of the ancestors. At either end you can see the large post holes – large enough to hold posts made of a single tree, probably oak, which had been split in half. Surrounding this was a shallow, horseshoe shaped ditch. When this was closed, the sections that Nick and the team put through the mound had revealed that cremations were inserted into the south side. This was later covered by a cairn of stony material and cremations were buried by this. Millennia later, the whole structure was bulldozed, leaving all three mounds in the form we see them today.

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In the image of Trench seven you can see the ditch segments, and how the line is not straight, but kinks off to the southwest. In almost all of the segments we excavated, large stones were found, suggesting that there was some form of structure associated with it. Finding the antler at the bottom of the ditch was the best moment of the 2017 season, and it will soon be on it’s way to a lab for dating.

Monday also saw the removal of all the tools from the dig site, as they were taken down to the campsite for cleaning and packing, ready to be loaded in the van for return to Manchester. This is an often overlooked aspect of excavation, but cleaning, ‘oiling’ and packing the tools makes life so much easier in the long run. They are ready to use and ‘oiling’ prevents them rusting if they are in the tool store until next summer. If they’re taken by the next Departmental excavation, they have nice, clean, professional looking equipment.

Tuesday saw a skeleton crew on site as Trench six was finished and closed down. That left just a few people doing drawings in Trench seven. Among them of course was Julian, who was drawing the scale plan of the whole trench.

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In closing

People have asked us if it was worth it, and our answer has to be an emphatic yes! The top of Dorstone Hill is a unique area, there is nowhere else with this configuration of Neolithic monuments. Both types of monument are rare in this country, and to find them together is amazing! There has been good dating evidence from the mounds to the north of the site and now we hope there’ll be a good date from the causewayed enclosure. Both Julian and Keith are very, very happy with the results of this year’s work, and Nick and Irene have over 300 pieces of Rock Crystal to work with on their new project.

We’ve made more friends this year, and of course we have to say thank you to those who have helped us out. So, thank you to the Hughes family on whose land this extraordinary site is found, to Herefordshire Archaeology for supplies and storage, to Adam Stanford for his great pictures of the site (and some 3D models to come). Thanks to the supervisors – David and Anne – for their patience, and to all the students for all their hard work. Mention should be made of Lisa and her staff at The Pandy  who provided a warm welcome and beer! Lastly, but by no means least, a very big thank you to the villagers of Dorstone and the Dorstone Front Room for their welcome, patience and support for the project, without which the project could not survive. Thank you to you all!

There’s more . . .

Now the behind-the-scenes-work begins, and we’ll be keeping you up to date with things as they happen, including that important radiocarbon dating!


Day 27 – Sunday 23rd July

Sunday began with so much promise, but we found ourselves in a familiar situation later in the day. This, notwithstanding, the star find of the excavation made it’s appearance today – but more of that later. Perhaps you might guess what it was!

The heavens open on us.

As you can see in the image here, our old foe rain made another visit to the site, and what it lacked in duration it more than made up for in volume. It came down like stair rods! I even felt obliged to drive the kit van over to Trench six to rescue the team from it – I’m fairly sure they liked the ride back over the field in the dark, dank back of the van. . .

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So, as you might imagine we had more bailing to do, and spent another 90mins or so getting rid of gallons of water from the ditch slots. Not quite the sort of work many of the students might have been expecting. However, we were successful and made a start on more excavating and recording after an early lunch. More time lost meant more pressure to get all the work completed before Tuesday afternoon, and the students really stepped up and knuckled down (can I say that?) to the tasks in hand.

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Star Find!

Every excavation has a wishlist of finds, artefacts that would say the most about the site or project, they might possibly be thought of as ‘treasure’ although Neolithic treasure doesn’t take the form of gold or jewels. For archaeologists working on projects such as this, many would say that ‘treasure’ would probably take the form of polished stone axes, house floors or organic remains that can be used for radiocarbon dating. We found carbonised hazelnut shells and acorns in the first feature excavated this year. These will be radiocarbon dated, but they came from the upper layers of a small pit which contained also contained a piece of Neolithic period pottery known as ‘Peterborough Ware’ which Julian thought would have been deposited quite some time after the ditch segments were created.

As is the way, our star find emerged almost at the end of excavations. It came from a ditch segment at the western end of Trench seven. It was found by one of the Manchester students and a volunteer archaeologist – Hannah and Janey. What they found resting on the bottom of their ditch segment was part of an antler used to dig out the ditch in the early part of the Neolithic. Needless to say there was much rejoicing at this great find!

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Days 25 & 26 – Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd July.

Friday can be summed up in three words – Rain Stopped Play. Rain on Thursday afternoon and overnight was so bad that we had a ‘pitch inspection’ and decided to call off work for the day and change the day off. The local geology is clay on sandstone, so of course walking on wet clay just chewed up the ground and it would become too dangerous to work on and destroy the archaeology in both trenches.

Low cloud after overnight rain.

Saturday was brighter, but even so there was potential for more rain as the early morning cloud over the hill could clearly be seen from the campsite. So it was with some trepidation that we set off to the top of the hill and day 26 of the excavations. We were not to be disappointed as there was plenty of water evident in both trenches. This called for some basic site rescue!

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After about an hour and a half of bailing we managed to get most of the water out of both trenches. Thankfully the sun came out and helped with the drying process over the course of the day. After this late start we were trying to catch up with the real work of excavation, which was a little easier after the rain had softened the clay. We were excavating, planning and drawing sections as the deadline of Tuesday afternoon loomed ever closer. The team were still making finds, and the find of the day had to be an arrowhead found by Bailey in Trench six.

One of our visitors – Andrew Flemming.

We were still getting visitors to the site, and one of Saturday’s visitors was Andrew Flemming an old friend of Julian’s. He also happened to be his PhD supervisor way back when! And speaking of way back when, some mystery stickers had appeared on both the camp and the top of the hill. It seems some enterprising individual had found an old photo of Julian on-line and had made a host of stickers and liberally applied them to anything that came to hand!

Mystery stickers of a young Julian appeared on site!

Day 24 – Thursday 20th July

Another short blog today, as we near then end of the excavation the pressure increases on us to finish recording everything the have found so far. In both trenches there are significant finds, contexts and features that need identifying, drawing, photographing and sampling. So Julian and Ann in Trench seven and Nick in Trench six are on the ball, ensuring that all the records are up to date and new ones are completed correctly.

Of course, there are some hiccups in the system from time to time, but most of the team of students are getting to grips with beginning to record and interpret what they have been working on. If you visit the site you’ll see supervisors pointing. They’ll be pointing north, pointing at different contexts or layers, they be point at the gazebo where the records live and they’ll be pointing at places they want students to go work. There’s always a lot of pointing on site.

One of the reasons why we are under pressure now is the weather forecast – heavy rain all day is forecast for Friday, so we needed to get a lot of areas clean and photographed before the rain comes, and with it the possibility of losing time to rain. Wish us luck!

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Day 23 – Wednesday 19th July

Julian presenting the story of what we’ve found on Dorstone Hill this year.

If its Wednesday then it must be lecture time, and this evening it was standing room only as Julian presented a ‘what we’ve found’ lecture to a packed village hall. Even after extra chairs had been bought in and the side doors opened there was still a squash and a squeeze to get everyone in!

If you’ve been following the blog, then much of what Julian presented has passed across the pages. He highlighted the character of the ditch segments and the post holes we think run across part of Trench seven, and the really interesting finds from Trench six, such as the large amount of Rock Crystal.

There were lots of questions from the floor as people showed great interest in the project’s results to date. Many were looking forward to the team returning next year, almost as much as Julian and Keith are! Hopefully the project will continue but we’ll have to wait and see what happens as there are major changes afoot at Manchester University!

Many people have asked for images of the site, so in the gallery below are some of the great images taken by Adam Stanford and his drone.

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Day 22 – Tuesday 18th July

Onward and upward as they say! Tuesday saw great strides made, particularly in Trench seven. There was a lot of dirt moved by a lot of people, and some interesting little quandaries emerged, much to Julian’s consternation.

Trench six

The main find of the day off in Trench six, was the end of the ditch they had been excavating. That is .if you don’t count more Rock Crystal, which takes the tally well over 300 pieces so far. This of course makes Nick and Irene who are working on a project which has grown out of the finds made in the trench.

Trench seven

A busy, busy day in the trench. One of the tricky finds we’ve made is some stones. No overly interesting you might think, but there’s a number of stones lying in the ditch segments. They are relatively large, with some being over a metre in length. One interpretation is that they were all tipped or pushed into the ditch at some time in prehistory, but quite when is a tricky question to answer. Almost all of them are on the inner edge or southern of the ditch. As we continue to take out the fill of the ditch, we’re hoping things will become clearer.

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Julian teaching students the finer points of drawing.

Despite the urgency of the work, there was enough time for the staff to continue with teaching the students. Julian took some through the intricacies of drawing a section of a large post hole. Ann took time out from supervising almost the whole trench to run through photographing a feature for the official archive.

Getting ready to take an ‘official’ photo.

This involves getting the feature and surrounding area as clean as possible. Once this is done then you need a scale, in this case one 2m in length, a north arrow (pointing north!) and details of the site code, trench and feature number. Then, and only then can you take a photo with the digital SLR camera.

So, another busy day as we head towards our finishing date next week. There’s plenty to be done, and some reinforcements have been called in to make sure we get everything done on time. The pressure’s on . . .




Day 21 – Monday 17th July

Phew, what a scorcher today turned out to be, and so at the end of the day almost everyone took advantage of the fine weather and went off for a dip in the River Wye at Bredwardine after work! Before that it was a long hard day in both trenches, but we were very pleased with the results.

Trench six

Work continued of the ditch that seems to mark out the earlier phase of the chamber. There was more cremated bone and pottery found in the later insertion on the south side of the mound. We hope to bring you some good images from the area tomorrow! There are more features to be planned and the team is working very hard as the deadline to finish rushes towards us!

Trench seven

Some very interesting developments in Trench six today. As work continued in the ditch segments, it became clear in several places that other things had been happening during the Neolithic, and possibly earlier! A large , roughly circular feature  being excavated by Althea has reached an impressive depth of over one metre deep. It looks very much like a very large post hole – one in which a sizeable tree would have been inserted and stood up as a large post. Not only that, but there may be the possibility of three further post holes running almost east to west in the eastern side of the trench. More post holes seem to be emerging, rather worryingly for Julia, in parts of the ditch segments. This is suggesting that there was quite extensive remodeling of the causewayed enclosure, maybe in the form a palisade with significant timber uprights.

There are still finds being made, and Julian is happy to see “a respectable amount of pottery” found so far. Given the weather was really warm again, we made use of the bowser to water some features on the site, and let it soak in overnight. More tomorrow. . . .

Days 18-20 Friday 14th-Sunday 16th July

Ok, catch-up time again after a busy weekend, including a bit of a busman’s holiday on the day off on Saturday!

Trench six

Nick and the team have continued to make great progress over the weekend. The feature being excavated by Hugh, one of the students from Cardiff University revealed more cremated bone, flint and charcoal – more than was first suspected. One the north side of the trench they have successfully found the ditch they were looking for, and it seems to continue beyond the baulk (just where Conor in the green top is standing. This ditch is believed to be contemporary with the wooden structure at the heart of the mound, and where people in the Neolithic placed the bones of their ancestors.

Trench seven

Julian is very happy with progress in Trench seven. Each of the slots in the ditches has now seen the re-cut of the primary ditch excavated at least in part. On the western end of the trench there is a strange looking collection of stones which supervisor Dave is puzzling over, but excavating carefully. On the other side, Julian has finished excavating and recording the re-cut and has begun to excavate the next layer of ditch fill. In the next slot along, Erin, who is a Glasgow University student volunteering for two weeks, made the star find of the day – a very nice sherd of Neolithic pottery! Although it wasn’t as big as the piece found by Julian, it was a rim piece, which will help us identify the type of pottery and the diameter of the vessel.

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In other news

Day off involved a trip to Hay on Wye for breakfast – a full English for most – before setting off to see some of the relatively nearby archaeology in the shape of some chambered tombs . . . well, what else do you expect! The evening was spent enjoying some live music at The Globe arts centre in Hay, and a good time was had by all.

Day 17 – Thursday 13th July

Thursday was another busy day on the hill. We had plenty to be getting on with in both trenches and lots of thinking to do about what we were finding. Thinking is one of the skills we use a lot as our understanding of a site can change very quickly. Read on . . .

Trench six

Nick and his team have finished planning the stones of the cairn structure and are now working on the next feature. Just to give you a brief re-cap on the story so far, the structure Nick and his team are working on sits close to the three long mounds excavated earlier. There isn’t a stratigraphic relationship between this structure and the middle and western mound, but there is with the eastern mound. By stratigraphic relationship, we mean that the layers or ‘contexts’ of each structure are physically touching. In this case there are layers of the eastern mound lie on top of some of this current structure so it much be the result of a more recent event.

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The story of this structure is looking to be a fairly complex one. As Nick explains it the first parts that appeared here were a ditch going around a rectangular structure, made of wood and daub. This was used for quite a long time before it was ‘de-commissioned’ and the ditch was partially filled in. In one section of the ditch there are deposits of cremated bone, suggesting that the dead were being treated differently. So far, there’s just a single discrete area of the ditch which was used for this, but there could be more. After this the whole area was covered with stones creating a large mound or cairn. The work is now focusing on what lies beneath the stones and to find the origins of the structure.

Trench seven

Part of the feature at the western end of the ditch – lots of burnt material appearing.

There have been some interesting developments in trench seven. We’ve been cleaning back in preparation for more photos of the ditch segments. As we’ve done so more elements or features have become clear. At the western end there appears to be a circular feature with a good deal of burnt material on it’s surface. It looks as if it has been cut or dug into the upper levels of the ditch, which of course means it was created later than the ditch. What we’re interested in is the relationship between it and the ditch in two directions, north-south and east-west. So there was some discussion as to how we might best tackle this. Usually we use a strategy call ‘half-section’ which means that the feature is divided in half (using high-tech nail and strings) and one half is then excavated. This shows us what the layers of the feature, such as a pit or a post hole, look like in profile. The second half is then excavated revealing more of the layers, and helping us see them in ‘plan’ from above. In this case, we divided it into four and are taking quadrants out in turn. A more complicated approach, but it will answer our questions.

Julian and the end of the ‘re-cut’ or later ditch

One thing that has become clearer is that all the segments of the ditch were re-dug at some point in prehistory. It seems that the ditch either filled in naturally over time or was deliberately filled in, and then a smaller ditch was dug into the top. Julian is very happy with progress on this front and has established that this more recent ditch is not as wide or as deep as the original ditch, and that more remains to  be discovered underneath this.

Now, as you’ll remember, Nick gave a talk on Rock Crystal on Wednesday night in the village hall. So what should we find on the site of Thursday? Why a quartz cobble with a facet of Rock Crystal clearly visible! It was found in the re-cut ditch and is therefore part of the later story. Nick of course was very happy.

In other news

Julian with Alison and Lisa from Historic England.

More visitors to site today, Adam Stanford returned to take some more photos with his drone, and we had two Historic England inspectors visit us to catch up with progress on the dig.

Thursday night is music quiz night! Everyone pays a pound entry fee and half the pot goes to the winners and half to the Dorstone Village Defibrillator Fund. In  another tight finish between the teams saw the winners emerge with a score of 27. The winners, who wish to remain anonymous graciously donated their winnings to the defibrillator fund!

Camp life isn’t all music quiz and trips to the pub, and students do try and do other things while they are staying in the countryside. Amelia, who is one of our star students and a whizz on the total station has also turned her hand to sketching scenes from the dig – here’s a sneaky look at one of them!

Day 16 – Wednesday 12th July

One of our small pools of rainwater – a little light sponging required!

Wednesday was a good day. Waking up and not hearing raindrops on the tent is always a good sign. We’d had rain overnight, which is a good thing. It waters the site and we don’t get wet while it does. There was just the small problem of a couple of small pools of water in low lying places. The rain cleaned the site of dust etc and it looked very nice, enough to bring a smile to Julian’s face! It was also the first day for the second group of Manchester students gaining fieldwork experience.

We’ve settled into a routine on site with this phase of the excavation seeing us taking out parts of the ditch in trench seven and removing the stones in trench six.

Trench six

A scale drawing from trench six.

The team in trench led by Nick has finished planning the features and have moved on the carefully removing the stones which formed the cairn over the mound material. An archaeological plan is a scale drawing of all we see in the ground. We draw a plan at a scale of 1:20, which means that for every 20cm on the ground we reduce that to 1cm of drawing. We use graph paper on a board and tape a drawing film called permatrace on top. There are a number of signs and symbols we use to indicate slopes or edges of pits or post holes for example, and once you get to know these it is fairly easy to read a plan. Most of the lines identify a slope and the small triangle indicates the direction of the slope. The longer line, the longer and more gentle the slope.  The picture here shows how good a plan can look!

Trench seven

In trench seven Julian and the team have continued revealing more of the ditch. Julian found that the area he was excavating contained what we call a re-cut. This means that at some point in the past when the ditch had filled up (either naturally or by human hand), and very likely in the Neolithic, someone had come along and dug a new ditch into the old ditch. This of course makes it much more tricky to excavate and draw. As the weather was good, plenty of progress was made and that too bought a smile to Julian’s face.

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In other news

Today saw a visit from Mike Allan who specialises in environmental archaeology. He will be taking samples from the site to examine them for pollen and other organic material which will tell us something of the vegetation around the top of Dorstone Hill in the past. He also specialises in snails. Snails and their shells which we find in excavation, can tell us about the vegetation in the past, as different species of snails prefer different habitats. Sadly here at Dorstone the soil is too acid to preserve snail shells, so we’ll be relying on other material for information on the environment here in the Neolithic.

Last, but by no means least, was the evening lecture by Nick. He drew a full house of both villagers and students for his talk on the work he and Irene, one of the project’s associate directors, are doing on Rock Crystal. It seems that the site of top of Dorstone Hill is, as far as we know, unique. There is nowhere in the country that has a Neolithic site with some much Rock Crystal! Nick and Irene are currently looking at ways of recording and analysing the finds and producing a report on their work. A generous round of applause was an apt reward for a really interesting talk! Thank you again Nick!